The Terror Within: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #136
by Scott Redmond
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ pulls a trick out of a good horror story and ramps up the tension for another very focused issue, distilling the cast down to a handful of characters amidst the overall broader event taking place for the franchise currently. Everything about this issue just clicks, as it always does, showing again why this has been one of the best titles on shelves for years.
There are reasons, beyond the budgetary, that shows can often turn to do a ‘bottle’ type of episode now or then. In many ways, it accomplishes the same thing as horror films that take place in one solitary location. In both cases, the focus on the characters and the tension is heightened when the cast and space are made at tight as possible.
Sophie Campbell easily accomplishes that feeling with this issue, as our cast drops down to just Donatello and Jennika as well as a handful of their allies (Carmen, Sheena, Jay, Lita) within the confines of their bunker facing off against the Utrom assassins sent for Regenta Seri. Every bit of the action is concentrated in this space as Donatello and Jennika fight side by side against dire odds, Donatello is almost taken over by an Utrom at the start, while the others are hidden away. It’s just so tightly paced and wonderfully executed, giving us a snippet of the story that is part of the overall happening across the world & universe story that is The Armageddon Game.
There is a brief visit to Burnow Island that ties into the main The Armageddon Game series, with MetalKrang coming to take back leadership, but it doesn’t break up that aforementioned tension feeling. In fact, it actually enhances it. Because we see there how Colonel Ch’Rell and their forces have begun building themselves bodies with the Triceraton corpses as they wanted to do and are willing to fight back against Krang to make sure they keep the power they have gained. How that reflects back on the main goings is that the Utrom want to wipe out Seri, and whoever wins will likely take those Triceraton Utrom forces right to the Splinter Clan’s doorstep.
I love this title and its focus because Campbell just so deftly expands the world in one moment and then can scale back to explore parts of that world just as easily. In the 36 issues since I began reviewing this series, so much has changed and been added or expanded upon that it’s a far cry from where it all began. If you had told me then what was coming, I would have gasped but believed it because Campbell has been killing it on this series since that first issue, and I for one cannot wait to see where it’s all going.
More Donatello and Jennika team-ups though, please. They play off each other so well, with her able to talk him into doing what must be done at that moment to protect themselves because surely, he’ll be smart enough to deal with what comes from that choice. The outcome surely was far from what he expected, but we know our favorite brainy turtle will come out the other side with some more knowledge.
Adding to that tense and confined feeling is just how awesome the work of Fero Pe is with each issue. Pe breathes so much life into a space, giving us such great detail, depth, and a massive weight to anything and everything that happens to grace a panel or page. We get a sense of scale within the panels that ramps up the smaller hallway/cramped space feeling, with the characters moving through that space logically and their fights bouncing around accurately. Plenty of close-ups help to add to that confined feeling because we’re right up on an eye or a face or some character’s action, making it clear how they might feel or be reacting or just making us feel a certain way ourselves.
With all that depth and detail, Pe also knows when to pull back on that. In the sense that some panels eschew background details in order to have an open/colorful background that draws the focus squarely on the character or moment, we’re meant to be taking in. It can ramp up the emotions on the page and drag us deeper into the moment, putting us basically right there alongside the characters. The same way that the ever-changing look of panels from one page to the next helps increase the feelings, allowing action or moments to slide over or next to or between one another as we move through the story.
As much as Campbell has been someone holding this title down all this time, the same can be said for both Ronda Pattison and Shawn Lee, true MVPs of this series time and time again.
No matter the artist or the subject matter of an issue, Pattison will deliver with trademark colors that shift however she needs them to in order to match with the style on the page. Here we have a great combination of more vibrant powerful striking colors alongside a more toned-down atmospheric sort of vibe in many of the spaces. They are in a bunker that is grayer and browner and some other colors and Pattison plays that up in the background, and even the pages sans background the colors that take their place are of a more toned down or Earthy quality. It’s the more fantastical elements that often take on the far brighter color palate tones, making the attacks or the skin tones or such of certain characters pop far more at the moment.
Being in an underground space that is artificially lit, we feel that too through the issue because Pattison easily accurately conveys the type of light that should be visible in a scene. There are spaces that are more well-lit in the bunker, but much of it has an overall darker or grayer/shadowy tone to it because they’re further into the space where it’s not as well-lit. Such a great addition, keeping things somewhat realistic next to this vastly fantastical situation that the Turtles already embody regularly.
Just as Pattison sets a tone with the colors, Lee does the same with the letters on the page every single time. These letters rise to the occasion time and time again to make sure that we’re not just getting the dialogue or captions that tell the story, but we’re getting the volume or tone or inflection that should be heard as we read them. It allows the reader to sound out the scene in their head and know just how the character might sound as they are yelling (with larger font) or whispering (smaller font) or just emphasizing a particular word (bolds) at any given moment. This is important because it makes sure that the emotions, we see on their faces are true to their words because all of this stuff is a cohesive creation telling a story and when all elements are singing in harmony we all win.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #136 is now available from IDW Publishing.